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The Monday Poem > 28th July 2014 - "Ulysses" by Tennyson

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman Ulysses is the Roman name for Odysseus, hero of the Odyssey. After his ten year adventure returning home from Troy, he reclaims his rightful place as king of the Greek island of Ithaka.

But, Tennyson wonders, will he be happy settling down in retirement?

Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


message 2: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 11966 comments Mod
Love Tennyson, great choice!


message 3: by Leslie (last edited Jul 29, 2014 12:41PM) (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Great choice Everyman! And this has so many wonderful lines/quotes... I especially like these 2:

"I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees:..."    and

"How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!..."


message 4: by Gill (last edited Jul 28, 2014 12:00PM) (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Thanks, Everyman. I didn't know this poem and enjoyed reading it.


message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 28, 2014 01:50PM) (new)

I enjoyed this. I particularly like the third stanza. It makes me want to pack my bags and go travelling!

I did find it quite a challenge to read. Had to read the whole thing a few times and some lines more than once in order to get the meaning.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman Heather wrote: "I did find it quite a challenge to read. Had to read the whole thing a few times and some lines more than once in order to get the meaning. "

Yes, Tennyson is not a poet to read quickly. But I find him very much worth the time.


message 7: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 13416 comments Mod
Do you know Everyman that DAnte, our famous poet of the middleages, ut Ulysses in Hell because he couldn't "stay put" and so he startedagain for another impossible voyage, beyond the pillars of Herculies, forbidden limit for the cristian world!
It is in the XXVI canto of the Inferno, one of the most beautiful and rightly famous


message 8: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Love all the active language, makes the poem so immediate and rousing! Tennyson is indeed worth the work. My memory is terrible; so I don't remember exactly who, but I think some famous political or military figure quoted from the last lines of this poem in one of his famous speeches exhorting the country. I can see why.

Have you read any of Tennyson's longer (book-length) poems? I've always intended to read Idylls of the King but haven't gotten around to it yet. I absolutely loved In Memoriam, a beautiful book length poem he wrote on the death of a close friend.

Thanks for sharing everyman! Good choice!


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman LauraT wrote: "Do you know Everyman that DAnte, our famous poet of the middleages, ut Ulysses in Hell because he couldn't "stay put" and so he startedagain for another impossible voyage, beyond the pillars of Her..."

Yes, I was aware of that. (My group read Dante just last year, which was at least my third reading of it.) But others here may not have been, so thanks for mentioning it.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman Greg wrote: "Have you read any of Tennyson's longer (book-length) poems? I've always intended to read Idylls of the King but haven't gotten around to it yet. I absolutely loved In Memoriam, a beautiful book length poem he wrote on the death of a close friend. "

I've read portions of the Idylls, but never sat down with the whole work. I read In Memoriam with another Goodreads group a year or two ago. Extraordinary poem. Not easy, but well worth it.


message 11: by Greg (last edited Jul 29, 2014 09:44PM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
@everyman, I agree with you; In Memoriam was definitely an extraordinary poem! What a treat to read it with a group! None of my friends had read that book before; so I didn't have anyone to discuss it with back when I read it.

I am really loving the Monday Poem feature of this group! On Sunday nights, I often find myself looking forward to discovering what the next poem of the week will be. So far, I've never been disappointed!


message 12: by Greg (last edited Jul 29, 2014 09:52PM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
@LauraT, actually I'm one of the ones who benefitted from your info. I've never gotten around to reading Dante yet. I unfortunately joined the group too late for the readalong :( I know some parts of the poem by reputation, but I didn't know about Ulysses in Canto XXVI. Thanks for the info Laura! I have a translation by Robert Pinsky waiting in my bookshelf to be read, hopefully soon!


message 13: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 13416 comments Mod
Greg wrote: "@LauraT, actually I'm one of the ones who benefitted from your info. I've never gotten around to reading Dante yet. I unfortunately joined the group too late for the readalong :( I know some parts..."

It is really a great piece of poetry! Do it when you can.
Some literary critics have moreover compared Dante's Ulysses to Achab of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, and I have to say that agree


message 14: by Gloria (new)

Gloria Sun (sunrequiem) | 38 comments This is my favorite poem ever! Or one of them, I should say. I have it taped on my shower wall and look at it every day. I think that many of the lines are so badass, well I could quote the entire thing, but for example:

"Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods."

And my personal mission statement: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"! :)


message 15: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I liked rereading this but couldn't help thinking that although he mentions Telemachus, there is nothing about his wife Penelope. Is she supposed to be happy to have Odysseus taking off again? No ties of love or loyalty to her?


message 16: by Gloria (new)

Gloria Sun (sunrequiem) | 38 comments Yes, I agree Leslie. Sometimes I wonder about that metaphorically too. Is it selfish for us to pursue our own ambitions and dreams, forsaking our duties and ties (as husband, as student, as friend, etc.) How many of us could afford to live like Odysseus?


message 17: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) Greg wrote: "Love all the active language, makes the poem so immediate and rousing! Tennyson is indeed worth the work. My memory is terrible; so I don't remember exactly who, but I think some famous political o..."

Idylls of the King in my opinion is over rated, but In Memoriam might be the greatest 19th century poem in English.


message 18: by Manny (last edited Apr 26, 2016 05:58PM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) As to the Ulysses poem, I find the most fascinating section to be the fourth, the one concerning Telemachus. It's been a while since I read it. It seems to me that Ulysses realizes he is abandoning his duties. Where are Tennyson's sympathies in the poem? Is he actually condoning Ulysses abandoning his people and his aged wife? After all the devastation that had occurred to Ithaca in Ulysses 20 year absence, is Tennyson OK with Ulysses deciding on another cycle? Tennyson gets into the character's mind well and convincing, but I'm not sure his sympathies are with the character.


message 19: by Karin (new)

Karin | 1953 comments Great choice, although I, for one, think he'd have been old enough and tired enough to be done with travelling, other than a few wistful moments. No modern medicine, etc

Still, I like the poem.


message 20: by Noorilhuda (new)

Noorilhuda | 185 comments AAHHH! one of my faves! Thanks Everyman!


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